Of Documents, Deception And Dominos

Gottheimer and Biden.

On Nov.2, 2022, the first domino fell, toppled by an epic error in judgment to cloak in secrecy the discovery of a small number of classified government documents in a Washington, D.C., think tank office used by President Biden following the end of his tenure as vice president in 2017.

When the news of the discovery broke in January, the falling dominos accelerated one after another engulfing the Biden Administration, knocking it off stride and off message.

It was all so unnecessary, a decision reached by individuals seemingly unschooled in the high stakes political arts and apparently panicked by the damaging impact disclosure could exert on the increasingly competitive Congressional midterm elections less than a week away. They convinced each other their discovery could remain a secret until the danger passed and it could be dealt with in a less politically stressful environment. It was a staggering strategic mistake with devastating consequences.

Once the first domino toppled, there was no turning back, no possible reversal of a news story that quickly spiraled out of the Administration’s control.

The most effective weapon in dealing with potentially damaging political controversy — control of the narrative; moving quickly and decisively to get ahead of the rapidly developing story— was lost. The moment the decision was reached to impose secrecy and gamble that it would hold firm, the initiative vanished.

The Administration was accused of deliberately hiding the information from the public to avert an election backlash and misleading the media by minimizing the number of documents found.

When searches of the president’s private home turned up additional materials, the media demanded answers concerning how they made their way to the president’s office, home and garage, who had access to them, how many were found and by whom and what action they took.

The Administration has been on the defensive since the day the day public learned of the existence of the classified material and has struggled unsuccessfully ever since to regain control.

The merciless falling dominos crushed the Administration’s credibility and deeply embarrassed  White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre who engaged in contentious exchanges with reporters, dodged questions about the documents and finally simply refused to respond at all.

Whether she was simply following directives from the president’s high-level staff and attorneys or flying solo, her performances were widely criticized and raised speculation that her White House days were numbered.

The criticism Democrats gleefully aimed at former President Donald Trump for leaving the White House in January of 2021 with cartons of classified data and storing them at his resort in Mar-A-Lago suddenly was seriously undercut by the discovery of Biden’s papers.

Scrambling to offer a credible explanation, Democrats minimized Biden’s exposure, arguing it differed substantially from Trump’s actions. The material found at the president’s office and home was stored there inadvertently, they said, and the Department of Justice and National Archives had been notified immediately while Trump acted deliberately, claiming without justification the documents belonged to him and refused to turn them over.

Their efforts were considerably less than successful and the first public impression that Biden had done what Trump had done stuck in the public mind and led Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint special counsels to investigate the circumstances surrounding the documents held by both Trump and Biden.

Even Democratic Senators fretted publicly that the Administration’s response was inadequate, fragmented and appeared to stonewall rather than clarify.    The president’s seemingly casual dismissal of the controversy — “I have no regrets” and “there is no there there” —  was cringeworthy and out of touch, indicative of a failure to grasp the political significance of the issue.

The later discovery of a handful of classified documents at the home of former vice president Mike Pence created a brief flurry but quickly faded when Pence took responsibility for it and sent the material to the National Archives.

No matter the eventual outcome, the entire episode is yet another object lesson in the dangers of attempting to conceal information in the futile hope the secrecy will not be breached and responsibility will be evaded.

All those involved in the discovery at Biden’s former office and private residence should have been keenly aware of the politically fraught controversy surrounding Trump and understood the need for openness and candor in dealing with their findings.

Instead of informing the media and the American people of their discovery, providing context, background and narrative, they chose the tempting path of least resistance — silence —- thus guaranteeing their opponents would provide context, background and narrative to their own political advantage and the detriment of the president.

Anyone with political and communications skills and instincts should have foreseen the inevitable result.

As a consequence of that decision nearly three months ago, the president was embarrassed and damaged, the Administration looked guilty and is now the subject of a special counsel investigation.

Instead of acting forthright and transparent, the Administration appears secretive and untruthful.

In my career in government, I served 10 years as press secretary to Assembly Republicans, 11 years as press secretary to two governors and three years in a similar role for the State Supreme Court.

In that time, I tried as best I could to follow the guidance of a long-time political operative: “If it’s going to come out sooner or later, better it be sooner.”

The Biden brain trust could have benefitted from his wisdom.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.   

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One response to “Of Documents, Deception And Dominos”

  1. There is no Biden Brain Trust. It’s obvious from Biden’s dementia. All that remains is the Biden Racketeering Crime Family. Biden and his son Hunter scammed the U.S. taxpayers with corruption, bribery and extortion. Remember the Ukrainian Attorney General incident? If he didn’t stop investigating Hunter and Joe Biden told him to be fired, the Ukraine wouldn’t get the BILLIONS OF DOLLARS from the U.S.

    Or, how about Hunter Biden paying the “Big Guy” (his father, Joe Biden) 10% of everything he made from huge multi-million dollar deals with the ChiComs, Russians and Ukraine? Talk about the “Big Guy” being compromised by our foreign enemies!!!!!

    Or, how about Hunter laundering money to Joe Biden by paying $50,000 per month in rent for the Delaware house??? When most similar high-end Delaware rental properties are at most $7,000-$8,000/month???

    Or, what about the cover-up of Hunter’s illegal firearm??? Or, what about the cover-up of Hunter and Joe Biden NOT paying federal income taxes on the $50,000/month rental monies???

    Time for Biden to resign, impeach Kamala and put McCarthy in the Presidency. At least with McCarthy you have integrity and he will be controlled by the House of Representatives.

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